[Tim Compeau narrates] While the War of 1812 battlefields centered on Upper and Lower Canada, soldiers came from across the British colonies including the colony of Newfoundland. Today, the story of the Royal Newfoundland regiment and their connection to the War of 1812 is kept alive by the dedicated re-enactors who fly their regimental colours. We spoke with some of them about the history of this regiment.
[Rick Peterson] The Royal Newfoundland regiment were raised as a fencible unit, so primarily for homeland defense. They were brought from Newfoundland to Quebec City and from there dispensed into, more or less, penny packet increments throughout the two provinces in various theatres.
Part of their undoing was that they were so invaluable as gunners, as infantry, as grenadiers, sailing ships and vessels, that the army thought that they were more advantageous to use them in small portions helping out supporting the bigger units, rather than fighting as one entire unit altogether. Therefore it allowed them to fight in I believe 22 or 23 engagements throughout the war, in all various capacities. They're one of the most versatile groups of the entire war on either side of the border.
After the war, there was really no doubt that Newfoundland had contributed probably some of the absolute best soldiers available, and even though they were a colonial group, they were every bit as good as any of the regulars from Mother Britain.
They were in the Niagara region guarding some of the forts in Niagara, Toronto, or York at the time, up in the Georgian Bay-Coronia area, Sault Ste. Marie.
They went all over, and really, I mean they served on ships, served as infantry, served as artillery, as well. So, they really had a chance to do everything in there which is so cool to re-enact them. It gives us a chance to play on boats, as well as to march and fire cannons.
[Parnell Bursey] As a Royal Newfoundland Regiment they were all familiar with being on ships as well as the infantry. They were in the infantry, so when the War of 1812 started, the regiment was split. They put half as sailors and half as infantry, so they were never given the awards that they should have been because the regiment should serve as more than 50% strength to get battle honours and as they were split as a regiment they didn't get battle honours. Fifty percent were in the navy, fifty percent were in the infantry, but they fought in probably more engagements than any other regiment in the War of 1812.
[Kevin Windsor] My name is Kevin Windsor, I'm the commanding officer of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment recreated group here. I started to start re-enacting, gosh, almost 30 years ago now, with a scout camp that we run called the Sky Brigade at Fort George. It's based on the War of 1812, it's at Fort George, it's groups of scouts from all over Canada, the United States that come down.
When I wanted to get more serious about re-enacting the first thing I looked for was a group of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in there and I joined this group 17 years ago now and actually it was kind of accidental that I found out that I actually am, my family is, from Newfoundland. We had started doing some genealogy research, found out that my family did come from Newfoundland, and that three of them did serve in the Newfoundland regiment during the war.
The regiment has a great source of pride in tracing their lineage back to the original Royal Newfoundland Regiment and they're really trying to stress the importance of the regiment and their contribution to the War of 1812. How they, you know, were sent really from their homes to another colony to fight in Upper Canada.
[RP] I’m Rick Peterson and the regiment that I portray is the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. As a group, we also portray the US Marine Corps. I've been part of the hobby for 17 years. As a youngster, I was always fascinated with history. I've always loved 1812 and I just basically sought out the local group just as a general member of the public and came out to see what they were all about. That was 17 years ago and here I am.
You probably hear the phrase greater awareness quite often and that is certainly something very important. I don't think we as Canadians, acknowledge our history very well and when we do, my own opinion, I think we really centre heavily on World War II and more recent conflicts. Maybe because we have living veterans to relate those stories and we have a lot of tangible objects. You can hold a weapon from World War II, it's quite common to go to any military show but 1812 seems to be really lost in all of that.
There are no veterans, we just have plaques and we have a few rare artifacts that are in museums, so for us to provide the displays that we have here, we bring that to life. And I think we really need to connect as Canadians with that because I'd heard a good saying that when, something to the effect of, if we didn't know who we were before the War of 1812, we as Canadians definitely knew who we were after the War of 1812.
It certainly galvanized our position that we are closely tied with Britain, of course, but that we're pointing towards a new direction and that ended up being Confederation. So I think it solidly laid the groundwork for us becoming our own country, something we really need to take stock in.
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